Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, December 24, 2005

"I am writing all alone"

There was a longer post I was working on when we'd arrived home from Midnight Mass, but I tired and wasn't doing my subject material - Church, homilies, issues of the Word being made flesh and such - justice.

Instead, let me wish you all a Merry Christmas. It hasn't been one for me, but hearing from many of you has improved it all the same.

The title of this post is a quote from Sufjan Stevens's song "Come On Feel the Illinoise Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream" - I don't feel that way, i.e. as though I'm writing alone. It's just what happens to be playing now. Besides, in a verse or two, that part of the melody's lyric changes to "Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?" I am trying.

14,000 words, with captions

This is a silhouette of Jon when he was about, oh, 7 or 8 or 9. The piece of paper on the left is written in the preschool Jon's adorable scrawl, on that thin paper with the dotted line between the solid lines to indicate how high lowercase letters should be. It reads, with enjambments, "Dear Mom I love / you a lot love / Jonathan Lobko. / I love you so / much love. / Jonathan Lobko." Two things kill me about this. One, the repetition. Since it was a writing exercise, his teacher made him write what it was he had to write twice. Two, the lack of punctuation. Call me biased but this seems to be one of the purest, most true pieces of writing I've ever read. The paper on the right reads just "I love you," one word per colored Post-It, and signed in the lower right corner "Love Jonathan Lobko."

A representative sample of the flowers we've been receiving. Thanks, everyone.

Jon, with arrangements of flowers. Notice the little picture of Jon on the right, taken when he's a wee little cherub, and the picture on the left, when Jon's in his hale 20s. I assume that Jon's head is on the left and his feet on the right. I have to assume this: we were not to open the casket. I assume this because of all of the funerals and wakes I've ever seen on TV and in films. The head always seems to go to the viewer's left. Anyone know why?

The Video Tribute. It turned out to be OK with me, mainly because the wake was loud enough with the voices of well-wishers to drown out the piccolo and string soundtrack. The picture here is of Jon and myself: I'm in red and Jon's in blue. Picture quality is not optimal, but you can make out Jon's blonde hair, which sometime in his adolescence finally went and stayed brown.

The four of us stood in front of these chairs and portraits when we received everyone. It looks depressing...

... but it really wasn't. These displays were on the opposite side of the room.

Young Jon and the flag the older Jon earned via his brief but storied service in the U.S.N.

Mikhael Lobko, a.k.a. Pa, in his Russian Cossack's uniform. He's standing guard. I wrote a poem about this image this morning.

Jon being borne into the hearse by the following Excellent Men: David Geary (his cousin), Alex Klimchuk, Peter Filonovich, Edward Filonovich (more cousins, on my Dad's side), Rick Heald (an uncle on Mom's side), and Phil Mathis (Jon's best friend).

To the right of this shot, about 20 cars are idling, with little flags of hard blue plastic reading "FUNERAL" on them affixed to their radio antennae. For one brief and v. weird moment it had the feeling of an Indy Racing start line. The hearse went forward and took a left around Buranich Funeral Home, then took a left onto West Genesee. We drove forward from where this shot was taken and took a left to follow the hearse - pride of place. A Camillus PD cruiser escorted. Drivers who happened to be on the road, including one old woman, were coming up behind the processional and didn't know what the protocol was; the old woman sort of weaved her car from lane to lane until she decided it was best to just stop altogether. I didn't see whether or not she waited for the whole processional to turn onto West Genesee.

Moving down the 1/2 mile stretch of West Genesee between Buranich and St. Joseph's Church. A mercifully short drive.

The Navy personnel on Burial Detail. I'm ashamed to say I don't know your ranks. I'll find out. See the post called "My Honor" for more about these Excellent Men. There was a fairly strong and fairly cold wind blowing at this moment.

There are more funeral pictures to get to, and there's never going to be an ideal moment to share the first picture of Jon as he was in his prime, so here.

This picture might seem too similar to warrant inclusion. Let me tell you why that isn't the case. The "Oh yeah" set to Jon's eyebrow is one of his dominant expressions. The other Alaska shot of Jon makes him seem demure, even somber. Whereas this shot gets across his cocksure moxie.

Friday, December 23, 2005

An important message regarding two-way communication

If it hasn’t been obvious from the tone or tenor of my recent posts here on DJ, I want to make one thing clear. That thing is this:

Your emails, calls, and comments are welcome, welcome, welcome.

Realize when I say this that I am in no way demanding people to email or call or comment. No. Not at all. In no way do I want to do that.

What I am doing is making sure that everyone knows how welcome their emails, calls, or comments really are.

But at the same time, there’s 0 resentment for those who don’t email, call, or comment.

I suppose that I only want to remove the hesitation for anyone who had been wanting to email, call, or comment, but hasn’t for fear that the family needs to be alone with its grief or must surely be fatigued with all of the support by this point. Fear not, is the overall message that I want to send in this brief post. Email, call, or comment away if you have the desire, is the message I want to send. This is the time at which the Event will begin to recede into the past ever so slightly, and the vast crew of family and friends and neighbors will begin to return—as they must—to their own lives, and the house seems especially quiet at night. People have said to me in various ways that they don’t know what to say, that they don’t have the words, that et cetera. And that may seem true. But I want to remove that kind of thinking as a concern. For everybody. Not knowing what to say shouldn’t be an issue. Considering that there are no right words, all words are the right words. There is no protocol for this situation. There is no wrong thing to say. Everything you say is the right thing to say. (To a point. You know what I mean.) Hearing from other people is the important part; the Rightness of what they have to say is so besides the point that it isn’t even funny. So believe me when I tell you, all, that your words, whatever words they happen to be and whatever they happen to address—the Event, the difficulty of addressing the Event, your red tricycle from your preschool days, how your own kids or siblings or folks are doing, chance observations of things you saw on the subway or expressway today, papers you’ve been writing, hands of poker you’ve won, exotic animals you’ve seen hiding in trees, all of this, whatever you have to say, is welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome.

"My honor."

Today’s the 23rd of December. I am about 45 minutes returned from dropping Kristin off at the Syracuse train station. I all but raced home from Armory Square, where I’d stopped off after the drop-off. Armory Square’s the more fashionable, brick façade and espresso shop part of Syracuse. My favorite CD shop ever is there: the Sound Garden. (In the spirit of the season, I’ll do a good deed and direct some web traffic their way. Seriously one of the better independent record shops I’ve ever been to.) So, credit card debt be damned, I picked up Sufjan Stevens’s Come On Feel the Illinoise, Bob Dylan’s No Direction Home – Vol. 7 of The Bootleg Series, Richard Pryor's …Is It Something I Said?, and Dr. Octogon’s Octogynecologist. Here are reasons why: Sufjan Stevens is a Brooklynite not much older than I am who, in all the fey ambition of his youth and faith, announced sometime 3 years ago that he would release a full LP for each state in the Union. Greetings from Michigan was the first, and Come On Feel the Illinoise is the 2nd. From a personal vantage point, Sufjan seems to be a sonic brother to me. The way he will throw mellotron, electric guitar, a string quartet, and a banjo together in a song that contains the following rhyme—“Stephen A. Douglas was a great debater / But Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator”—that to me sounds a little bit like those poems of mine that make use of fold-up briefcase jet-cars from The Jetsons, huge golden belt buckles with embossed images of jumping fish on them, Confucius, goth kids, and military aircraft evasive maneuvers. That’s the kind of shit I love. The bigger the song or the poem, the more you can throw in there. And good on you if you can make it work. Which Sufjan does. The Bob Dylan is because no serious American music aficionado can be without a new Dylan release. (I still don’t have Dylan’s full musical catalog, I turn red to say.) “I Was Young When I Left Home” will probably appear on the mix tape I make in Jon’s name. (As will Built To Spill’s “Else” and “Bat Out Of Hell” by Meat Loaf.) Richard Pryor is because the man passed away recently too, and I’ve been wanting to hear the guy spout invective since I heard that news. I’m suspecting it’ll be an album Jon might’ve liked. (A good deal of the grief I’m dealing with is that there’s no way to know, now, what Jon would’ve liked. I had a hard time picking out a gift for him. I didn’t know him nearly as well as I wanted and want to. He was always excellent, if at a little bit of an arm’s length, but all of us Lobkos tended to be like that. He was a guy I was really looking forward to getting to know; there’d been so many intervening months of absence and silence between our hanging out in the same place, and during those months things happened to him and the kind of guy he was changed in ways I was looking forward to understanding with him over a pitcher of beer at the Silver Dollar Grill in the one-stoplight town of Camillus proper [i.e. not the stripmalled segments of Fairmount and the former Camillus Mall—now a Lowe’s / Applebee’s / future-Wal-Mart] ). And the Dr. Octogon because he’s supposedly one of the better rap lyricists ever. I’ve been looking for this album for a while, but it was always $18 and up whenever I found it. A better reason than the price for my buying it is this—and I see the Sufjan Stevens in this way too—and the Dylan, and the Pryor—all of them are consummate wordsmiths. I need their example. I was listening with Kristin to Aimee Mann’s best album in the car this AM. Same thing. Aimee Mann’s one of the best lyricists working today.

This is all so inane compared with all of the things that were in my head as I raced home, though, of course. This being the first real reportage-style post since the wake Wednesday and the funeral yesterday, there are so many things to record that I don’t know if I have the power to do so. Anything that gets my fingers moving, of course, will help re-convince me that words CAN get the job done, and that it IS possible that I can put those words together in the proper order.


Jon arrived today in a smooth pine box 10 inches wide and 12 inches high, with another inch or two for the base of the urn, which is (the base, that is) a little wider than the urn itself. There’s a nature scene carved into the front. A river meanders through a sort of sylvan glade. There’s a mountain out yonder, abutting the horizon. It’s not a bad image. Behind it are my brother’s ashes. Which should go without saying. But I figure that it’s important for me to state such things, no matter how obvious I and all of you know them to be. Saying things like “My brother’s ashes are in this wood urn” might even be the best sorts of statements to make. I’ve been making such statements to myself now and again over the last few days.


OK, all other ruminations must STOP for a second while I thank everybody. Because the amount of help and just sheer love we’ve gotten from everybody has been literally incredible. Here’s a stream-of-consciousness Thanks List. If you’re not on it, You Are Not Forgotten. My consciousness is just working its way around to you.

o Susie and Paul Manfredo. Parent’s friends from Buffalo NY, where we lived in a subdivision called Golden Gate. You have been my parents’ best friends for a long time, for reasons that are plainly evident for all to see, really. Mr. Manfredo—Paul, if that’s OK—you made me realize that there’s something may become more true in repeating it. You said, as we 4 Lobkos received you in Buranish FH before driving to St. Joe’s, something along the lines of “You’re in our prayers.” You said more than that, but that was a common refrain or final line to all of us as you moved from Dad to Mom to Missy to me. And something about the way you said it, with the same clipped delivery, made me believe it in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d heard it one time. So you made me understand the source of incantatory power, in a way. (Lord, listen to me. But I really talk like this, by the way, for those who don’t personally know me.) Anyway. Thanks Susie and Paul; you’re Good People.

o Christina Clemens, Mrs. Clemens (can’t quite call you by your first name, still), and Mrs. Neiss (ditto) and Mrs. Calandra (ditto again). The latter 3 being more parental pals from Golden Gate, and the first one being CC, my best friend from about 1989 when you moved into Joey Fundora’s house to late 1994 when I moved away. Then from late 1994 to about 1997 when Lauren Camaione finally helped me get over you, my feelings for you were of considerably more than a Best-Friend nature. (Quick aside: you always handled the potentially very awkward situation of how I felt about you and how you didn’t feel about me with utmost grace and incredible consideration. I’m stream-of-consciousnessing here. Maybe this should be one of my policies from now on too; Complete Honesty. A little “Open 24 Hrs.” sign to hang from my brain. Anyway, here are my belated thanks for how you conducted yourself in that situation. It impresses me more and more the older I get.) Hmm, I’m running into the “Whom Am I Addressing Here?” problem. Because you know what the deal with our friendship was, but these other readers in the vague dark auditorium of the Internet don’t. I feel as though I’m standing at a podium reading a long Thank You speech at a blinding shaft of spotlight-light, behind which I can’t be sure how many of members of this great gathering of loved ones are actually present at the present time. Anyway. It Means The World that you came, CC. I will thank you again in person, or in a more 1-on-1 way soon, but I also want to thank you so everyone else can hear. You said, as we were in the receiving line, that of course you would be here, that you wouldn’t have missed something like this. And while that’s true, it’s wouldn’t have been true for everybody. Which is to say that had I had the exact same relationship with another person, call her Girl X, and I had had the same history of best-friendship and infatuation and moving away and pining-from-a-distance with Girl X, and then Girl X met a fantastic Boy Y, and I moved on, and then Girl X and I lost touch, for like years, keeping vague tabs on each other via neighborhood rumor and 3rd-hand reportage and IM-away-message-checking, I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t think that Girl X would have showed up at Jon’s wake. 99% of other folks in Girl X’s situation would have done what Girl X would’ve done, which is to say probably not shown. Which means that I’m saying that you are no Girl X—that there’s something about you that makes you CC, who did show up, as sunny and open and loving as ever. Thank you.

I better shorten things up if I’m to get to as many people as need to be gotten to.

o My family. Which is to say the Filonoviches, LeBeaus, Gearys, and all of the various significant others thereto. At times, I have to say, I’ve worried about the sustainability of these family bonds between us, because, well, words have passed between us, and acts of no little insult have been visited upon some by others—I’m being intentionally sort of vague here—and I’ve been worried about how estranged we’d wind up being from each other. What this Event has demonstrated to me, however, is that all that worry’s for naught. One of the darkest parts of realizing this fact is that it took the Event to prove this resiliency. Nevertheless, I am grateful for all of you. For those 48 hours, at the swirling eye all of this Event-related grief, I felt a strange calm having you around me. As one who was at the nexus, the very core, of our congregation, I can tell you that we will all, individually and as individual family units and as larger Clans, be fine, fine, fine.

o Kristin Taylor. Please allow the following blank space to allude—failingly—to the appaling amt. of love and aid you’ve shared with me over the course of our long & storied relationship, which just this morning we termed “Epic”.

o Dan Graham, Betsy Barrett, Shane Donahoe, Mary-Ellen Lewis (I don’t remember: do you hyphenate?), Dave Cost, and those who couldn't make the wake but had their names signed to the flowers sent to Buranich. I have the card - it's upstairs, but I'm in the writing moment and don't feel able to get up to confirm all of the names on the card. It was supremely touching, guys, really.

o Other friends and families who've called or written or managed to pay in-person respects: Aria, Mr. & Mrs., and Lauren Camaione. Mrs. and Colleen Mangan. (Again, Colleen, that story you told about when we met was tops, and just what I needed to hear. Thank You.) Bobh McNamara, who's in NYC and somehow we haven't hung out down there yet. WTF? Anywho. Liz Harlan-Ferlo. Emma White, Beatriz Herrera. Dorianne Laux. I'm writing you personally in a matter of minutes. Jaime Green. J. Kracker, still in Australia and therefore most decidedly out of the country, but the person most likely to have driven to Camillus if he had been located anywhere on the North American continent at the time. Jeremy Gregersen. You're engaged, you dog! And you don't tell me right away! A light-and-quickly-passing-no-more-than-a-case-of-the-sniffles-grade pox on you, sir. A pox. Even the way you phrase things in your voice mails - simple 60-second reminders that you're thinking about me - reassures me that words work and words save.

o Phil Mathis, Jon's best friend, for turning out more than OK in the end. It isn't my place to be proud of you, maybe, but I am proud of you all the same.

o The Naval honor guard that provided for my brother an official military treatment. I have to research what the process really is for military burial services. I’ll do that in a moment. But you two men, who were standing there as the hearse and then my family’s car pulled up in the little oval drive of St. Joseph’s Church’s eastern entrance, Thank You. I don’t know your names. And there are some rules against our doing something or providing you with something as a token of our appreciation for your service. I can describe you, however. You on the right, you looked a little bit like Steve Carell from The Daily Show and more recently of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Your face was not very well-composed—there was a tautness in the brow and a slackness to your mouth, which was slightly open when I did the possibly-taboo thing of approaching you to thank you. Then I realized that this face of yours was possibly more composed than anyone’s face besides maybe your co-honor guard’s face (to whom I’ll get in a sec). You looked very tired. You looked about to cry, honestly. It was as though you’d purposefully arranged your face in an expression as close to crying as possible, so that your face wouldn’t have very far to go if and when you did begin to cry. Which of course you’d never allow yourself to do. (Are soldiers chosen for funeral detail based on certain psychological profile attributes? Are they chosen on the basis of their emotional togetherness and all-around unflappability? Are those soldiers who’re apt for burial detail especially good soldiers when shit hits fan and mortars begin to fall – not to denigrate other soldiers, but are burial details soldiers some of the most dependable soldiers around, or what? I’m really interested.) But the fact that your face was like this, sharply juxtaposed with the by-the-book look of your white sailor’s cap and perfect military carriage, shoulders back and hands curved in that distinctively-G.I. Joe figure sort of way, it all filled me with affection for you first, and gratitude second. And the other guard. You were younger. You were an inch shorter than him, and your strategy of facial composition was different too: you had the taut mouth and constricted chin of one who’s gotten some bad news indeed but is still trying to smile. Which resulted in a sort of straight-lined mouth that was oddly un-straight: it seemed unstraight because it was so clear that there were so many emotions and living thoughts informing the facial expression. And you said—and I can’t believe this, still, even today—you said when I said Thank You for being present, you said “My honor.” I can’t believe you said that. That was the most big-hearted thing you could have possibly said. It was the perfect thing to say. Because you were looking me right in the fucking eye when you said it. And you smiled a little bit, just so, as you said it. The little smile and the eye contact conveyed to this writer and brother that you meant it. All of my Angry Young Liberal’s knee-jerk anti-military militarism just crumbled and scattered like old snow. Because you meant it. There isn’t space to get into politics here today. But, quickly, I have been struggling with the military aspects to this whole Event. Here are a few reasons why: 1) Jon didn’t like the military enough to stay in it. He’d gone AWOL, after all. Granted, given his mental state as it is currently revealed to us, he might have left behind whatever he’d gone to go do, if it hadn’t been the Navy he’d abandoned. But still. 2) Jon’s attraction to the military and things violent had given him the tools and the exposure to those tools to finally do what he did. I’m not saying that the Navy taught Jon to shoot, and the Navy’s therefore responsible, in part. No. That’s bunk. But the Navy’s presence still seems weird when you consider that 3) I think Jon was more lulled by the alt-metal “Accelerate Your Life” ads the Navy runs than he was by any notion of service or love of country. See The Onion for a killingly funny take on this idea. What got me though about the way you said “My honor” is that I realized, in the instant you said that, that you and I could have sat down at a bar and I could have told you about everything in the above paragraph—Jon’s falling-out-of-love with the Navy, and his going AWOL, and his uncertain (in my view, and only in my view) allegiance to military buzzwords like Honor and Service and the rest—I could have spelled all of this out for you at length, just as I’m doing now, and still, still, you would have said that it was Your Honor. And I still would have believed you, just as I believe you now. The honor question, for you, was one with a given answer. It amounted and amounts now to a kind of Unconditional Love. Standing there in the sunny cold outside St. Joe’s, traffic on West Genesee St. passing by, my brother’s body in the hearse next to me, I realized all of this very quickly. I Thank You for making me realize this. That it really was an Honor for you to stand outside coatless as the body of a young man you didn’t know pulled up, and his family, not knowing what else to do, still gamely trying to figure out how to feel about their dead son’s relationship to the Navy, stepped up to you and reached a hand your way.

You know, I’m really beginning to fear my inability to be concise. I read the eulogy yesterday and most of my trepidation came after I read it and I had to ask almost everyone who brought it up (I wouldn’t let myself bring it up) if the thing had been too long. (It was four pages single-spaced, with footnotes.)

o Father Bryan, who officiated, and Father Finnegan, who’s 75 but still hale, in my humble opinion. Even though you, Father Bryan, took something of the easy way out in using me to insert the requisite little bit of humor—which I know is easy to do, esp. when you look at that picture of Jon and I in matching red shorts at the poolside, he’s 19 or 20 and I’m 21 or 22, he’s in full bodybuilder’s mode and I’m well, just not—even though you did this, I want to assure you that I too laughed at your reference to this picture, and in with a good nature here now Thank You for your service. For the record, I disagree with the idea that “there are no words,” which was said first at our house sometime during the week when you visited us, and again at Jon’s service. Granted, I have struggled with this very issue of words and their power (lessness) as concerns an Event of this magnitude. But as I’ve been engaged in a process of re-establishing my faith in words, since the Event, and even though it’s been an up-and-down experience in terms of despairing in language’s inadequacy and remembering that only words will save me in this, I have to differ. Not to set you up as a straw man to knock down. After all, it was with words that you comforted my family and friends and Jon’s friends (Jon himself, maybe, too, I’d like to think). You comforted us in the extreme, and it wasn’t through stoic forbearance. It was through speech. So I’m making too much of a passing phrase of yours that doesn’t really represent the philosophical statement of grief-management I’m making it into.

o Sufjan Stevens. Thank You for Come On Feel the Illinoise. Somehow this record, which is exclusively about things related to Illinois, is right now giving me one of the more cathartic and resonant experiences of beauty I’ve had in a while. “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” is especially transcendant. I really do hope you find this entry in the course of one day Googling your name (it’s okay, everybody, we all do it. Googling your name is the new masturbation). And on that day I hope you’ll feel free to comment on this blog or at the very least, the very least, smile with the assurance that your music is a one-of-a-kind kind of music, and that it’s helping me with the Event in ways I can only begin to blog about. In fact, I’d really like to hang out with you sometime. I suspect we’d have a lot to talk about. But all the indie rock kids would say the same thing.

o There are so many more of you. One of my life’s abiding goals will be to give you all, each and every one of you, the recognition you deserve. Unless you tell me not to. In which case I’ll thank you privately. Lots of thanking to do. Man oh man. Lots and lots to do.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

For your consideration, the following eulogy


This past June, for the Graduating Writers’ Reading, I had the opportunity to provide an introduction for my friend and fellow poet Michael Davis, way out in lush, distant Oregon.* I gave this introduction for Michael Davis by weaving an elaborate and completely falsified account of his made-up life: I managed to claim with a straight face that Michael had been born in a crevice of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, had been raised as a street urchin skilled in cadging drachmas from tourists by reciting lines from Homer’s poetry, and had toured the world on a yacht owned by a Rupert Murdoch-sort of media titan. All of which was of course not true.**

The Oregon introduction was my most recent public speaking engagement. As for today’s engagement, I’d intended this speech to be quite different. Since there already exists such a long list of Jon-stories that are literally incredible, stories that few of us know the full number and character of, it seemed at first that the best thing to do would be to thresh the wheat from the chaff, to pull out what I view to be the Objective capital-O truth about who my brother is and what he’s managed for himself over the past one score and two years. To set, in short, the record straight.

Then it occurred to me how bored that would make Jon.

There are a few reasons for this. For one, Jon’s interest in odd and incredible stories now seems to be a foremost and even a defining trait. Usually taciturn, Jon’s stories when he did deign to tell them tended to ramble on in the best, most hilarious way. His storytelling method was a kind of two-steps forward, one-step back approach, which he used with a comic’s sense of timing in order to maximize the number of times you heard the funniest parts.*** Another is that Jon was, well, easily bored. As I said. And he was himself a below-the-radar kind of guy. But the stories that fascinated him were larger-than-life type stories. The kind of person he always secretly was was colossal in terms of heart-size and financial shrewdness and, let’s admit it, smartness of mouth. When he chose to appear on your radar, at a party or at the dinner table, it was with an outsized persona that commanded the full sum of your attention and imagination. Exaggeration, embellishment, B.S.-ing—writers and poets call this poetic license, but I think I’m beginning to see Jon’s affection for the Very Big in a new light: he was himself innately bound up in the Very Big. Thus his astounding, brother-dwarfing physique. Thus his love of big-box warehouse discount stores like your BJ’s and Sam’s Club. Thus his knack for dangerous feats.****

So if I embellish, if I pull at the truth, I ask for the benefit of the doubt in that such pulling and stretching is the best and perhaps the only way to get at Jon himself. In short, this means that I’m in the tough position of wanting to tell the truth about him, and having to tell unbelieveable stories about him to do so.

Nevertheless, let’s away: let’s investigate a just a few Claims you might have heard about Jon, and find him.


VERDICT: Half-true. One of the chief ways in which this is true is Jon’s style of dress. He tried to dress as simply as possible: board shorts, T-shirts of solid color. His shaved head, which pre-dated the Navy, was also a step toward simplicity. In fact, I stand here as a sort of half-proof of this Claim of Jon’s simplicity and anti-attention stance; I told myself that I wouldn’t wear something to this Event if Jon would have disapproved, or would have made fun of me. As Jon would have avoided a suit if at all possible, I’m avoiding a suit on his behalf. So Jon’s dress and composure did indeed seem to indicate his wish that no undue attention be directed his way. It’s amusing, therefore, that many of his anti-attention efforts actually brought way more attention down on him than there would have been otherwise. Consider the early morning, in winter, in a snowstorm, when Jon wanted to wear shorts, a T-shirt, no coat, and just forget about his wearing a hat. All of which resulted in a long-term standoff, the car idling, Melissa and Jon’s best friend Phil silently watching a Battle of Titanic Will play out between my mother and Jon in the battlefield of the family car. This is really my mother’s story: as one of the chief players in the scene, she tells it best. Ask her sometime to do the voices. And plus, to further consider the opposite side of the attention-issue, one has to consider the photographs on display at this event; Jon’s Mr. Universe-esque poses and “You love me, don’t you” faces were late-blooming, but he made up for this fact with a gregarious and even a dedicated love of the camera, as though he were making up for all of the snapshots he’d waved away in the past.


VERDICT: Largely untrue. Sure, Jon hated crowds. He thought trips to Carousel Mall, especially on Saturdays when we tended to go, were forms of earthly punishment he never believed he’d have the strength to survive. For you to step uninvited inside Jon’s considerably-wide sphere of personal space would be akin to my approaching you with an armful of just-born and very poisonous sea snakes. But if you were admitted into that circle, if you were the kind of person whose hand he wanted to pump and who deserved a good strong one-pat-on-the-back sort of hug, he would make his affection for you known in unexpected ways. I think of two small vignettes here: Jon lighting what I believe was my first cigar, when we were I believe at our cousin Mary’s wedding—at the glass doors to the reception hall Jon watched me manipulate the mouth-end of the cigar, and all the while he offered such encouraging counsel as “Ya gotta inhale!” and “Inhale now!” When I coughed a blue streak—which is embarrassing for an older brother in ways I can’t begin to describe here—Jon unleashed his Movie Villain laugh,***** which of course only goaded me on to the eventual cigar-enjoying success story you see before you today. And then there was the eighth-grade dance at Camillus Middle School when Jon and an accomplice took a set of plastic eyedropper-type pipettes, which they’d filled with Stolichnaya vodka, and used in the CMS bathrooms to enliven the drinks of those few kids who’d gotten wind of the opportunity before the authorities discovered and collared him. Now, I realize that these two mini-stories, however much I share them in an affectionate, “You rascal you” sort of way, both center on smoking and drinking. Which are both what’s known as vices. And offering these stories up now here in the House of the Lord might not be the kosherest thing I’ve ever done. Still, the fact remains that Jon wouldn’t have done these things if he didn’t, you know, sorta care for me, or for those gangly 12-year-old pals of his who before his help had been too square to dance. When you come right down to brass tacks, he was trying to help. So I submit to you now that these acts, when considered in the light of larger hierarchies of potential sin, are proof of Jon’s profound, if idiosyncratic, loving-kindness.


VERDICT: True, true, true. Rapid-fire snapshots to drive this point home:
o Jon sitting with the family on the wicker furniture that abuts our dinner table, it’s Sunday morning, Jon’s leafing through Best Buy circulars and Sharper Image catalogs with the verve and efficiency of a Consumer Reports editor;

o Jon at 6:30 AM on a weekday, changing the channel from my preferred Warner
Bros. cartoons (although we’re both middle-school age) so he can watch the last few wee-hour infomercials for OxyClean, Ginsu knives, and Radar Detectors ‘R Us;

o Jon emerging from his room upon hearing the plastic-bag ruffling of Mom
returning home with groceries, and asking her why she didn’t get the Emperor-sized bucket of beef jerky, and informing her that these two gallons of milk would likely be gone within 48 hours;

o Jon unwrapping a Nintendo 64, joy on his face;

o Jon unwrapping a Nintendo Gamecube, joy on his face;

o Jon unwrapping a you get the idea already.

None of which is meant to suggest that Jon was too overly bound to material goods. I think that these items, if they did bring him any happiness—and I believe that they did—did so mainly because they gave Jon the opportunity to share his enjoyment with us. Goods weren’t ends; they were means for communicating with others. To wit: the catalogs featured fantastic bargains and rip-offs he’d tell the rest of us about. The infomercials were for products the Lobko family couldn’t bear to not own. His beef-jerky consumption skills were, I can only conclude, supposed to be abilities in which we could all take deep pride. And if I turn (back) into a video game junkie, it will be because I’m playing against an everpresent, phantom opponent.


VERDICT: Obviously the case. Many of the photographs you’ve seen of the recent Jon have him squatting on an Alaskan peak—in shorts and a T-shirt, you’ll notice. It may seem a drastic juxtaposition with those photographs of Jon as a flaxen-haired wee lad about [REMEMBER TO GESTURE] yay high, dressed in some sweater or fleece get-up I surely myself had a matching version of.****** And while there is a way to draw a linear line along Jon’s life day-by-day such that these photographs are strung together like pearls on a string, I prefer to look at these photographs differently. I see them as though each photograph’s a mountain-peak to which Jon has incredibly, Supermannishly leapt, and at the top of each one Jimmy Olsen just happened to be there to take the picture. You couldn’t be sure to which mountain-peak he’d leap next. You might therefore say that he lived in the air. That they were big spaces he leapt through. This non-linear way of thinking seems to better represent how we each remember, and how we’ll end up remembering Jon: in assorted, individual ways as jumbled as they are vivid. It’ll be a little bit like the way Jon himself told stories—two-steps-forward, one-step-back, revisiting the best parts—and it’s in that spirit that I leave us with the multiple images of a smiling coatless Jon, Jon squirting millimeters of vodka into drinks, Jon with Phil packing a mound of snow beneath the backyard swingset, Jon saying “Awlright” when impatient, Jon turning the pages of ads, Jon with Phil then climbing to the swingset’s roof, Jon wiping the virtual floor with me in this or that video game, Jon laughing his staccato-laugh in a cloud of cigar-smoke, Jon atop the swingset regarding the awesome pile of cushioning snow he’d amassed, Jon with his arm around Emily, Jon watching TV from the floor, Jon throwing footballs in unfairly perfect spirals, Jon downing gallons of milk, Jon just appearing upstairs without sound, Jon on the swingset, Jon up there, Jon looking down, Jon leaping, Jon aloft.

~ FIN ~


* Pronounced “ORYGUN”. Which I take the time to mention only because we Lobkos have contended with pronunciation-type issues all our lives. Here I can see Jon mockingly pantomime our chosen manner of demonstration, which is to say “Like ear lobe” in a grossly exaggerated way, because Jon didn’t really care about the pronunication-issue, but he thought it was hysterical that we (or I) did. One of his favorite varieties of humor was gross exaggeration, as in his running song-and-dance impersonation of Arnold Schwartzenegger, Benito Mussolini, and Sylvester Stallone, SIMULTANEOUSLY.

** I’ve since trumped this story by weaving an even MORE elaborate lie via voice mail for my friend Dan Graham, a high school friend I’d not been in touch with for some years now. In my lie, I told Dan that I was knocking around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a local man-on-the-street for the Wall Street Journal, interviewing local rickshaw-companies and following the stock prices of chicken in the alley bazaars. Dan Graham, who is here today God bless him, bought this completely over-the-top fake bio, and even went so far as to call joint friends of ours to relay the details my outlandish biography.

*** Example: Jon’s first official Naval obligation was an engagement nicknamed “Patience Day,” for which the Navy rents out like a Holiday Inn, and for about 24 hours the new recruits are put through physical and mental tests deliberately designed to test the constitutions of those young men who dare think they’re up to the military life. On coming home from his Patience Day Jon stood revealed to me as one of the funnier storytellers I’d had the pleasure of listening to: he circled and recircled around the central event of the Frankenstein-like head M.D., whom everyone there nicknamed Dr. Death, and the Boy Who Couldn’t Look Down due to some obscure previous neck injury. Jon did voices and everything. Dr. Death: “LOOK DOWN!” Boy Who Couldn’t Look Down [miserably]: “I can’t!” Jon told the rest of the day’s stories as well, but kept coming back to that mini-scene like a sprinter doing a shuttle run.

**** Of which there are too many to mention. But by way of brief example, Jon loved, with his best friend Phil, to pile together a huge pile of snow in the backyard just below the swingset. They’d spend the afternoon jumping into it—from the roof of the swingset.

***** Which is something like this: [Breathlessly and staccato in pace]: “HAHahahahahahaha!!”

****** We actually did the brothers-should-match thing for a while. His slingshot was red, mine blue. One of my favorite sweaters was a gray deal with a black Vee pattern. His was, again, red. I think most siblings go through such a stage—or they’re MADE to.

"I have no doubt by working together we can and will get through this"

That’s actually New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on the Transport Worker’s Union – MTA strike. A fairly resonant way to put things, considering.

Finally I don't mind
Worthless tries at finding something else
Best not talk to loud
You're not as smart as you require of them
Your body breaks
Your needs consume you forever
And with this lied the need
To be here together
Funny thing with blood
Try to stand but neither leg is awake
Just this side of love
Is where you'll find the confidence not to continue

That’s from Built To Spill’s “Else” (see last post). Everyone’s trying to find the right soundtrack to the Event.* My sister listened to Sixpence None the Richer’s self-titled album—yes, the one with “Kiss Me”, but I’ve always thought that it was a highly underrated album. My reasons for believing this are complex and I’ll maybe mount a more complete defence of its virtues sometime in the future for interested parties. And last night as I ran on the treadmill in the basement weight room, I put on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. This was a poem-worthy experience if ever I had one. Typically I hate to run indoors, and don’t listen to music as I run, but this album, this man Meat Loaf, was exactly the sort of overwrought orchestra Rock I needed to hear, such that before I knew it I was upping the speed on the treadmill to 8 miles / hr – not an excessively impressive speed, but still – just so my footfalls would align with the beat. I ran through the whole album that way. Given the bouncing of my head, the cord to the headphones I was wearing made distended playground jump-rope ellipses as it swung around and around.

E—, Jon’s girlfriend, called the family yesterday. Amid other details of the chronology of the Event and the fallout, there was this choice nugget: she described the Event itself as “a click and a pop.”

I didn’t write yesterday. I didn’t do much of anything yesterday, besides the run. There’s been a good deal of basic laziness in myself. Even getting up from the floor of the upstairs guest room last night at 1 AM for bed-prep purposes seemed beyond my powers, not due to grief, but due to the apparent pointlessness of doing so. I did write some emails, in fulfillment of my Communication resolutions. But I didn’t get any of my thoughts down. Didn’t write a poem. Late last night I finally sat down and tried to write the eulogy. I’ve been putting this off in a very conscious, but not quite a deliberate, way. The reason is not that writing it will make me cry or break down. The reason is rather that I know the eulogy will be a failed piece of writing. That there is no way given my proximity to the event and the time constrictions and etc. etc. etc. that this piece of writing will do anymore than shine a penlight on one small sliver of Jon’s trademark one-eyebrow-raised “I’m so beautiful, and I’m only half-joking about that” face. I don’t want to write it. And I here note with dismay that I haven’t been reading much of anything, either. Mark Doty’s Sweet Machine, which has helped friends of mine through tragedies of their own, and the composition of which saved Doty himself (to hear him tell it), sits on top of a stack of books I’ve pulled from my shelves and have yet to crack since the Event. I don’t find myself reaching to those words I thought I’d be reaching to. Which, well, whatever. I’m only noting the fact as interesting, although last night the issue about my apparently-increasingly-spotty relations with lit and personal composition seemed to knell a dire note indeed. I gave up on the eulogy at around 1 AM because I was sensing how inaccurate and not up to the task it was. Language was beginning to seem inadequate to the moments at hand. This morning, since I’ve begun writing even this update, that feeling has receded. I don’t want to lose my faith in words as a salve. I think and even know that they are my foremost aides-de-camp in this war.** The way to maintain this faith, I’m beginning to see know, is to not stop. To keep on. Keri B— has planted some of these thoughts in me, and has echoed certain thoughts I’d had in re: writing as a salve. I suppose I just wanted to thank her.

Speaking of thanking, Thank You, Jayne, for the banana chocolate chip cookies, which I just received a moment ago, 11:07 AM on Wednesday. Words don’t quite fail to express what I want to express, but they will have to be a start for the time being.

I need to know something from all of you who might be reading this. As a college student and grad student and starving artist gypsy type, I’ve been removed from the day-to-day of my family for a while now. Since the Event, I find myself edging around the exteriors of rooms in which Dad, Mom, Missy, and Baba and Pa are grieving. (See the VT issue for a prime example.) I’m not any longer inside of their dynamic. Which is natural and just the way it is due to circumstances. Fine. But when everyone isn’t grieving, when instead everyone’s sitting around with some vodka crans and Coronas, and telling long stories about Jon’s middle- and high-school escapades of malbehavior, complete with mimed action and imitated voices, it's then that I find myself emerging and taking a seat at the table and laughing as hard as anyone. I’ve even tried, partly through the loquaciousness vodka inspires in me, to maintain this mood. From the hours of say 5 PM on, there’s a glass basically taped to my hand, and while I’ve never been one to get drunk in order to hide grief, I have been trying to remain, let’s say, optimally medicated in these evenings. I’ve been a presence in these social mileaux only to the extent that those mileaux make me smile about Jon, and not sob. My question: Does this amount to a sort of selfishness? Is the whole “being there” and “being strong” obligation of the oldest son mean that I should force myself to be at the table for those hankie-fests that I don’t seem to feel innately drawn toward? Some might say that that last sentence answers my own question: that whatever I do is its own justification, and contains within itself its own rationale. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t want to be resented in a few months or years by Melissa or anybody for being physically present but emotionally way off somewhere else.

This morning Melissa and Mom, in full black dress that was wholly out of whack with their near-sunny demeanors, were looking at drawers of old photos. Much of their mirth came from how wretched they judged their previous selves to be (Mom’s lost weight and is the most attractive 40-something woman not yet on TV you’re like to encounter anywhere, and Melissa’s the kind of pretty I suspect men remember for years). There was one photo of a Geary Family Reunion—the Gearys being the main trunk of my mom’s family tree—with about 40 members of that clan gathered on the rickety steps of a house Mom called the Addams Family house. You know, wide steps, a wraparound porch. And apparently, there were so many members gathered on these steps, and some members of the Geary clan had become so, ah, ample, that shortly after the photograph was snapped the set of stairs gave, and 40 Gearys collapsed in a laughing heap of guts and scruffy cheeks and big Irish smiles. Mom and Melissa laughed to remember it: while they’d been there, Dad, Jon, and myself had not been. I don’t know why. But Dad’s reaction was to comment, with the tone of a reprimand almost, that someone could have seriously gotten hurt. It was the tone that one would use if a teen had jumped from a bridge into a creek, and yahooed and felt very much alive, and wanted to relive the memory by telling about it, not that they would ever jump into the creek again, and the parent of this teen wants to make it very clear that Damn right, they were not to jump into the creek ever again. Even though the Family Reunion was years ago, and no one was hurt at all, and the collapse was by all accounts a pretty fun instance of collective Geary weight and mass and constitutional good-humor, Dad’s tone was aimed toward the prevention of any such situation in the future: because although no one had been hurt, someone could have been hurt, and someone could be hurt. And strangely I began to think of my name, which is William, same as Dad’s. William’s Christian meaning, according to this just massive Webster’s Home Reference Library tome, is “Protector” and (funnily) “Helmet of Resolution.” Which got me to thinking that Dad’s expression of protecting is a literal, physical one. As in, Don’t ever again put too many people on a set of wide, rickety Victorian house stairs, because they’ll collapse. Whereas my take on protecting might be said to be a little more morale- or emotion-based. I see all of the humor in that story and for my part I think that it’s exactly these sorts of stories that need to be told ceaselessly in the next 36 hours. The protectorship I want to offer is that of the narrative that gets people laughing. That’s the sort of story to which I’m drawn, which I seem to need. But what about others?

This pretty clearly relates to the above “Is it better to be grave or better to be mirthful” question I asked way up above. And maybe what this has to tell me is that there’s no better / worse, there are only differing approaches that will suit various individuals differently. Fine. But again, the intersection of Individual and Group need here is an issue I still don’t know how to parse out. And moreover I realize that it might be well nigh impossible to divorce the stories from the reactions they’re going to garner, i.e. the gravity and the grief. Everyone’s going to react to the stories, no matter how entertaining and knee-slapping they might be, in different and unpredictable ways. And I need to safeguard / protect myself, but then at the same time I need to safeguard and protect others… it’s all way too much to figure out now. At least I’ve phrased the question, though.

The wake is at Buranich (pronounced BURN-ish, I’m 99% sure) Funeral Home in Camillus, NY. It’s right on West Genesee, basically across from the old Octagon House. 4 PM – 7 PM.

* I’ve started to use the Event in a more inclusive way, i.e. the Event as what Jon did and also what we now have to do as a result.

** War? With what, W? Grief? Normally I’d edit out or change these stream-of-consciousness-borne tropes. But that’s seems disingenuous toward the whole “Words will save me” idea. For them to so save, I’ll have to let them work as they will.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Warm Industry


"The Warm Industry" is NOT a reference to the Video Tribute industry. It's a reference to the family of a friend of mine, whose family members are constantly bustling off to meet patients or tutor kids or walk dogs or row or lunch with friends from a few towns away - the house and life in their presense feels like being in a busy-but-not-manic factory involved in the production of, say, down comforters.


Issues of Self and Other are key tonight. Two main stories will illustrate the central issue with which I’ve been occupied for the 12 hours I’ve been awake—it’s 12 midnight, and simple math will tell you that I slept in until 12 noon. After last night’s writing I watched “The Matrix: Revolutions”, which is truly an insipid movie which you should never watch. People told me as much, but I watched it anyway. But now I tell you: don’t dedicate the time to this movie, ever. But the central issue, yes, the central issue has to do with the interplay between Individual and Group needs when it comes to grieving. What’s best? Looking out for #1, i.e. the self, always and ever? Or compromising your own self in the name of others?


This issue was at the center of a David Foster Wallace essay I read yesterday, “Up, Simba” from DFW’s new book of essays Consider the Lobster. “Up, Simba” is a long-ass profile of John McCain in the first week of February 2000, just before Super Tuesday. DFW was writing for Rolling Stone. The article takes a lot time to illustrate its central concerns about how dicey it can be to distinguish between actual selflessness, especially on the part of a career politician, and that crafted selflessness which is the result of much money, polling, investment, and the like. For DFW, McCain stood as a foremost hope for American politics due mainly to his heroic military and Vietnam War POW bio, which is fleshed out considerably in DFW’s version. DFW the Rolling Stone journalist and DFW the after-the-fact essayist can’t get around the fact that John S. McCain III, interred in the Hanoi Hilton for a year with three broken limbs and a bayonetted groin, weighing 100 lbs., was offered release when his father was made Admiral of US Naval forces in the South Asian theater, and that John S. McCain III despite his grievous wounds refused release due to the US Military Code of Conduct, which states that prisoners should be released in the order they were taken. Which DFW correctly interprets to be an act of literally-incredible self-sacrifice, an action wholly devoid of self-interest.

I realize that I’m once again setting up a very Apples & Oranges comparison here. Still, bear with.


This evening I had a bit of a breakdown when my family received an email from Buranish Funeral Homes informing us that the Video Tribute for Jon was finished and could be seen by clicking on this link. Baba and Pa were still here at this point. Melissa signalled that I should come watch. Now, yesterday I’d made it known that I wanted to have a hand in the musical aspect of this Video Tribute. And while granted I didn’t exactly get on my horse today to follow through on this having-a-hand, I still felt a) the trepidation of seeing a Video Tribute in which I had no hand, b) worry that this would be just too, too much to take for all parties present, esp. Mom, and c) skepticism that this VT would be way wrong in its depiction of Jon. On all counts I was horribly, horribly spot on. There we all were, clustered around the computer. Treacly music begins to accompany the white Victorian script on black background. Mom’s shoulder’s begin to move; her breathing is audible. Collage #1 Fades In: it consists of five shots of Jon in an X pattern. The central pattern is of Jon at the foot of some mt. in Alaska in a sleeveless fleece vest and a white T underneath that. One of his eyebrows is raised and he’s smirking, but it’s less George Bush than Indiana Jones. All sorts of megatonnage of grief starts to flash outward from my family. At about this point I leave. I don’t want to see anymore. Here’s why. The Video Tribute is the audio-visual equivalent of an over-the-counter panacea. It’s a handy, easily-consumed pill into which 22 years of my brother’s life has been distilled. Distilled by a stranger at that, but let’s set that aside for now. The big deal I began to address up there in the guest room, once my room, and originally Jon’s room, is that the VT is in no way what Jon would have wanted. Jon disdains emotion. Hates emotion. His spirit or what have you will be hanging out in a corner on Wednesday afternoon in the oak room of Buranish Funeral Home, saying things like “God, what a buncha goofs. That music? That’s awful.” The whole shoddy production—and I’m not even judging it on its production values—is completely out of whack with the person my brother is / was.*

Now, I’m self-aware enough to realize that at least some of my flight from viewing the VT in full has to do with a hesitancy to confront the emotions raised by the VT. A few seconds of “footage” did indeed inflate my Adam’s apple to the true proportions of grief. But in a way deeper way I was fleeing the VT itself. The emotions it happened to raise, I’ll deal with soon. But the VT itself seemed completely bent on raising those emotions, pulling them out of the viewer like a rainbow hankie from a clown. It’s a form vs. content issue. The content, i.e. the emotions, are fine. The form is not fine. The form of the VT is akin to a Hallmark card. The VT is akin to a sugarpill that inspires neat Pan & Scan visions of Jon as a bloody infant, Jon as a wide-eyed infant in a blue terrycloth sleeper, Jon as a 9-year-old with improbably-developed ab muscles kneeling in hole at the beach as the tide rushes in, Jon as a Naval cadet, Jon as a broadbacked outdoorsman crouching on the top of a hill in AK and still way about the clouds, which are spread out below him. Which, when I type it all up here, doesn’t seem so bad. You do get a sense of narrative here, which is nice. But each one of these clauses / photos deserves a fuller articulation; they require myself or Dad or Mom to be sitting beside the viewer, available to expound further on the circumstances of each shot: “This is when X” or “Oh yes, that was our trip to Y and Jon kept doing Y when we took this shot…” Etc. Not that it’s practical for us, the members of his family, to personally narrate the background to each photo featuring Jon. The VT might be said to be a sort of stand-in for us: it tries to provide the context in which those snapshots exist. But if that’s what it really meant to do, it’d look more like a PowerPoint slideshow than it does, and I actually use “PowerPoint slideshow” in a complimentary fashion. Because not only is it a) the attempt to package and present his life that I find honestly repugnant, it’s also b) the direct appeal to histrionic release. The exhortation to Cry, Big Time. Not only is the content intrinsically moving, but on top of that the form in which that content’s portrayed seems deliberately oriented toward maximum tears.

But then of course there’s the fact that such an approach might be exactly what certain people want and / or need in order to help them through the process of grieving. Calling Joseph Heller.


Funny thing is that this situation isn’t one that can be resolved through simple compromise. I don’t want the VT at all. The parents do. Can we show the VT fewer times? No. The issue, after all, for me anyway, is that it shouldn’t be shown at all: it shouldn’t’ve even been made. But I digress. Point is that there isn’t really a way to give-and-take our way through this situation. The McCain anti-Self-Interest story would seem to be a shining light illuminating the fact that one should bite the bullet and deal. The anti-Self-Interest thing to do is just contend with the VT: which I was always going to do, by the way, i.e. deal. I wasn’t going to sabotage the A/V equipment such that the VT blinked out and people were left only with the posterboard collages of Jon’s pictures. **, *** Although I did think about it, as certain best friends can attest. But no, see. My dealing would be anti-Self-Interest for sure, but I also need to deal with my dealing, which is to say that my own grieving will be impeded by the thought that all of these people are effectively swallowing an audio-visual One-A-Day about my brother’s life, an 8 to 10 minute sum-up of his birth, childhood, adolesence, and young manhood. The narrator in me senses how impractical and even impossible would be the task of conveying to another person the kind of person Jon is / was. Better to present an un-chronological assortment of Jon’s pictures and allow the viewer’s eye to rove over scenes and poses from Jon’s way too fucking short life and construct their own narrative as they go.**** We’re not going to be able to represent the totality of Jon’s 22 years in any sort of manner that’s going to approach sufficiency. And the VT seems to want to try to do that: represent the totality.

Plus, even as the VT tries and fails to represent Jon accurately, it feels very familiar. Saccharine strings you’ve heard before in Oprah and The View montages. The font of the script has that slight fuzz around the edges of the letters; words look like they’ve been through a chemical bath. There’s a general Jostens-high-school-graduation-video vibe to the whole bottom-feeding production. But again, it wouldn’t be an option, the VT, if people weren’t reliably springing for it. I don’t know why I continually reject things that are mainstream (John Irving, Harry Potter, FM radio). It isn’t wholly a concious process. If I had to conjecture I’d say it has something to do with the premium I place on originality. K— spoke to this on the phone tonight: there’s a tendency in myself and those like myself (and let’s do the nasty: educated, bookish, leftist American Confucians of the middle and middle-upper classes) to equate real (or more real) emotions with original formulations and statements. There’s a belief among us that the expression of actual emotions requires new articulation or formulation. *****


All of which seems neither here nor there when I think of Jon being present in the room on Wednesday, rolling his eyes and calling us all Goofs. I don’t want the spirit-Jon to call us Goofs. I want the spirit-Jon to say, Yeah, that’s awesome, in the way that he might compliment a really excellent piece of barbecue chicken or a cigar or something he actually valued and enjoyed and identified with.


* Issues of tense aren’t issues with which I can contend right now. In true postmodern fashion, we’ll have to spring for the Both / And rather than the Either / Or.

** Which is also drawn from Forrest Gump: when Gump’s speaking at the D.C. anti-war rally and a staff officer rips out the mike wires.

*** Remember that the service has to be closed-casket. Our options for visually representing Jon are therefore limited.

**** And yes, this IS classically postmodern, and no, I’m not sorry about it. :o)

***** To that end, I want to play Built To Spill’s “Else” from Keep It Like a Secret. The originality here would consist in eschewing string-laden weepies like “Unforgettable” and going for the unexpected pairing. But this just another example of the Cult of Obscurity, a sort of Rob from High Fidelity elitism? Christ, I don’t care. I have to stop second-guessing myself.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Two-Headed Boy

The first thing the survivor of a suicide—which isn’t an oxymoron, because those nuclear and immediate family members of one who terminates his life may indeed be said to have undergone acute trauma, and are therefore survivors—the first thing one thinks of is oneself. “How could he do this to himself” is a question that comes close on the heels but on the heels nevertheless of the question “How could he do this to me / us”. On the train home to Syracuse there were all matters of solipsistic-type reasoning running through my head when I stopped reading long enough to allow the thoughts to so run. This phenomenon, which Webster’s opines to be “a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing”, is going to be at the very center of what I have to write tonight, because I’ve got to get straight what my motivations are in writing down what I’ve been thinking / feeling / being today, firstly, and secondly my plans, which I’ll probably make good on, to post this on Disruptive Juxtaposition where any and all browsers and good friends may review and consider the precise ramifications of what I still feel is going to be a highly indictable grappling with the nature of the Event of December 17th.*

Because anyone who’s known me for at least a week knows, I can out-fence-walk anybody: I am the Great Equivocator: I am Janus-faced (although I am not the Two-Headed Boy of this post’s title). I could wear a full-body sky blue anti-Kerry flip-flop outfit and mean it, although not in its political sense, naturally. I see Pro and Con simultaneously and equally. Example. In this case, I see the need I have to take notes on and set down in some sort of lasting record those transient thoughts and correspondences of thoughts and external images and phenomena which, taken in sum, articulate something about the Event that I couldn’t. I also see some potential overcompensation in my need to record and publish (in a very limited sense, and mainly to close friends and new friends made via this site) the nitty-gritty of what's happening with this family, what's happening with me, and what was happening with Jon such that here we are now. The Pros of sharing vs. the Cons of sharing - and here and for the moment I mean sharing in all of its varieties - are involved and not yet completely resolved, but by post's end I think you'll understand where I stand, if you haven't figured it yet by virtue of reading this in the 1st place. That the medium I choose to set down this record upon is public rather than private says a lot about me, true. I suspect however and want to suggest that it says a lot about what people in general and Young People my age** need in times of trial that are kindred to the Event.


I use the definite article because I feel sure, even at this early juncture, that this event is going to be the defining event of my life to this point. Capitalization and definite article usage should therefore make sense and at least be excused, if not condoned. Although here of course I have a wheelbarrow load of guilt about spending the time and verbiage about explaining why Jon’s suicide deserves a certain term, which term needs certain explication to make sense to those who don’t know me, him, or what his death means to me or to others.


COMMUNICATION. Once you cross the Hudson and head west from Albany, the Amtrak train lines are lousy with old telephone crossbeams and poles that are perhaps even older, as in telegraph-line old, staved in by storm-tossed pine boughs and plain old unsexy neglect. This vision made a handy counterexample or cautionary tale for me as my cellphone buzzed with texts and VMs from those friends of mine I’d left VMs for last night in a sort of desperate paroxysm of calling and message-leaving, i.e. “Hey, it’s me – haven’t heard from you in a while. Just letting you know… [short description of the Event] … So right. Hope you’re well.]

GUILT. I’m a recovering Catholic. Already there’ve been professions of guilt on the parts of certain members of my family, i.e. If only we’d known X or If only we’d done Y, responses that even I who’ve have next to 0 direct experience with such matters can recognize to be the most pernicious type of thinking when it comes to an event such as the Event. Guilt’s one of the absolute worst, worst thoughts here. But on top of the guilt about what could / could not have been done to keep Jon alive, to bring him home safely in that truck he’d recently bought and driven to Colorado, there’s the additional (and self-imposed) guilt of what I’m doing even now, which is to put all of this in writing for others to read it.

SOLIPSISM. Is there anybody else than myself? When the answer seems to be no, you might be in a position that’s kin to the position my brother was in yesterday morning. But issues concerning solipsism and self-concern and self-preservation are way more involved than I’m going to be able to address here right now.

SERENDIPITY / SYNCHRONICITY. Melissa my sister and my cousin Jen are watching a late show of Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump’s just saved Lt. Dan as well as Bubba, hauling ass out of the jungle before a wall of towering orange napalm. They collapse in the paddies of the LZ and present-day Gump narrates, “If I’d known that this would be the last time I’d talk to Bubba, [mentally garbled and / or unintelligible]”. I have no firm recollection of the last time I saw Jon, let alone what we said to each other. I know the vague dates and the situation—I was home for a few days of summertime R&R sometime in July ’05—but could not under threat of torture or death remember what it was we said. Plus, the album I’ve just finished listening to, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea ***, features these lyrics in “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2”:

Brother see we are one and the same
And you left with your head filled with flames
And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth
Push the pieces in place
Make your smile sweet to see
Don’t you take this away
I’m still wanting my face on your cheek ****

Whatever your musical inclinations, try and listen to this album sometime soon. Jeff Mangum, if you’re reading this, thanks for this album.


There is no protocol for a situation like this. Not as far as I’m concerned, and not as far as my family is concerned. The closest thing to it—and understand that I understand how VERY apples and oranges this is—is that time back in, oh, ’96 or ’97 when our first Golden Retriever took ill with lymphoma and had to be put to sleep. VERY VERY apples and oranges here. But the way my family dealt with that grief was to pad up the beige carpeted stairs in as innocuous and silent a way as possible, close bedroom doors in like fashion, and cry or otherwise Deal as our various emotional constitutions variously deigned. For my part, I read Calvin & Hobbes strips in collected volumes. Looking back on it now, there’s neat correlation between the loss of a beloved dog and dealing with that loss by losing myself in the hermetic adult-proof world of a precocious six-year-old whose best friend was a stuffed tiger. As to what correlations might exist between this Event and my impending coping, it’s way to soon to tell. On the train however, I did draw up a list of things to research. They include: 1) Guns: make and model; 2) Housing: where Jon and Emily were living in CO, in what kind of domicile, etc. etc.: what was the layout to the place? What does it look like? I’ll need to see this place; 3) Fireplaces: Jon had taken work as a sales associate with a fireplace sales and installation concern; apparently fireplaces are big business in Ft. Collins (a few hours’ drive up U.S. 25 from Denver). Some fireplaces can run $20,000 USD and due to their incredible complexity need to be the very first elements installed in new homes—the rest of the house is built around the fireplace—which is a nice throwback to or continuation of tradition to how homes were originally built, which is to say around a hearth.

To follow up on the Communication, Guilt, and Solipsism themes in one fell paragraph: When I received the news last night I did a little bit of keening and then went right into calling every person in my cell phone’s address book who could possibly lend an ear and / or a word. After grabbing a hold of a few people and leaving about an equal number of VMs, I realized that there was a universal awkwardness to what people said or to what people would feel on listening to those VMs. Apologies to all of those I called. I know that such apologies aren’t required and might even be deemed daft, and even I deem them daft: I did what I had to do. But was it Right for me to do so? It’s excusable, but was it Right? By Right, I mean, Was I acting solely out of self-interest? Were my actions of desperate outreach and dogged, multiple-calls-placed Communication efforts indicative of a Solipsistic “I have this Pain regarding this Event” sort of self-obsession, about which I should feel a crippling Guilt? To what extent did I consider the ramifications of my calling? I don’t want this paragraph to become an extended rumination on the second-guessing I sometimes do regarding the perceived tenuousness of those friendships of mine. Just as I’ve learned, finally, after 2 dozen years, that I need people and love to have them around, so too I might have to learn to trust that those friendships aren’t going away. That, if these friendships could withstand non-Communication for many months***** and still pick up as though just yesterday we’d split a Papa John’s and whiled away the afternoon playing Quake 3 with greasy fingertips, I could place a great deal more faith in those friendships than I’d allowed myself to. On an intellectual level I know that that’s the case, i.e. that these friendships are steadfast and inexorably supportive-type friendships, and that they have and will continue to stand the arms-out-with-teeming-buckets-of-water endurance test of time. But really believing this fact is another and a dicier matter. Also easy to 100% admit in an intellectual sense but impossible to admit in a 100% emotional, heartwise sense is that there’s nothing for me or for members of my family to feel guilty about about Jon’s final action. I expect that edging closer and closer in a mathematical approaching-the-limit sort of way constitutes a disproportionate share of the grieving process.

It’s after 1 A.M., and I’ve lost track of my beverage count. Not very much, considering. Drinking isn’t a part of my family’s grieving process. That’s a plus. I think it stands at 4, my beverage count tonight. But I didn’t get to the whole issue re: the more people the better, the lifesaving nature of words and sentences as strung together to form thoughts for the purposes of efficiently transmitting information to another, or for personal catharsis (see COMMUNICATION), let alone the story of Uncle Rick and his tale of trying to ski with a ruptured Achilles tendon – in the middle of an orthopedic surgeon’s convention, no less. (It was while convalescing in the ski lodge’s bar that Rick found out about his being surrounded by doctors who would surely mock him right out the rustic doors if they knew about his folly [I was in stitches, listening].) (See GALLOW’S HUMOR – To Be Composed.) And then there’s the critical Is He Lying Or Not Game played by certain passengers in line at Amtrak’s Penn Station this AM. Not to even *mention* this complicated issue of what it means to “allow yourself to feel”, as K—exhorted me to do: When I am self-preserving by thinking of something other than Jon, eyes open, against a wall of unknown color, the back of his neck and his lower cranium (I can only imagine) explosively red and fragmented, and when am I self-preserving by thinking of EXACTLY this? What’s confrontation / dealing, and what’s avoidance / failure to grieve? How can one know the difference? How can I know what sort of controls it’s OK to exert over my own thought processes, and what sorts of controls are way too superegoish and destructive to let my mind exert upon itself?

Upshot of all of this is that there’s still a lot to say and get down, somehow someway, as quickly as I can.


As allies go, you’ve all been incalcuably helpful and generous and concerned, all of those Basic Human Decency things that you might skim over if you’re reading about them but which floor you if you’re on the receiving end and able to see them, the Basic Human Decency things; they transcend their cliché nature and become the graceful acts of angels disguised as your oldest friends, and distinctions between angels and old friends become moot. Questions of ethics and Guilt and Solipsism aside, the Communication issue holds dominion over me at the moment, and as such Disruptive Juxtaposition will be a sort of primary nexus or node for updates on how I’m doing and what’s happening here. Keeping up with everyone directly is the ideal, but it’s going to be hard to make good on as far as ideals go. This sounds like it runs counter to my (uber)pro-Communication stance, but it really isn’t: it’s more a matter of setting out a plan for broadcast Communication via this site and VMs and actual conversations for more particular Communications efforts. Idealism v. practicality.


I’m talking at such insipid length about Communication because it’s the thing I’ve only recently figured out I need in a terrible way: not Communication solely in a “Hey, how’ve you been” sort of way but also and more importantly the “I understand and identify and even empathize with you on X and / or Y issue” sort of way. I talk about it also because Communication – in both its “Hey Ya!” and it’s “I hear you and Get you” incarnations – is what I keep thinking could have kept Jon here, with us, getting off the plane in a week’s time, bitching bitterly about some colicky baby or smelly John-Candy-from-“Planes Trains and Automobiles”-type fellow sitting next to him on the plane from Ft. Collins, CO. ******

* My decision to deem the Event the Event deliberately recalls that one comedian in The Aristocrats, who, after a whole lot of 9/11-related discussion of the Death of Irony and attempting to answer the question Is there a place for comedy in the contemporary mainstream anymore, got to waxing philosophical about the utterly crucial role of comedy in sum especially after the Events of January 22nd—upon which the interviewer, Penn Gillette of Penn & Teller fame, interjects “What tragic events of 1/22?”, and the comic replies that that’s the day he lost his American Express card while running errands along the Santa Monica Blvd. Just as this comic both described and utilized the redemptive power of comedy simultaneously, I am going to have to try to employ a similar degree of gallows humor in here, and while I’m not looking for anything like carte blanche here, I suppose I still want to convey the fact that it’s in this “The Aristocrats” spirit that I may here and there occasionally crack wise.

** Like as not, here loosely grouped together under the unhandy designation of
Generation Y

*** The brilliance of which is well-documented and pretty much unassailable by those who know—on a par with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Maybe not Pet Sounds. But it’s very very good.

**** You might as well know that Jon did the Hemingway, the Hunter S., the Kurt Cobain, which clearly lends these lyrics even more eerie poignancy. I don’t yet know what sort of gun he used. I imagine it wasn’t a shotgun. Wow, he’s really dead. I was just picturing him there, slumped against the wall of some room I’ve never seen, his mouth O’ed to admit the fatal barrel. I want to know what his eyes fell upon in this moment, and did he see what his eyes saw.

***** I think here of guys like Shane Donahoe and Rob Bowes, friends of mine who’ve allowed months and years to elapse without Communication One passing between us—and I’ve done exactly the same thing—but then when we do finally meet up for a beer or a round of golf at downtown Syracuse’s own steep, brown-hilled Burnet Park, it is as though no time’s passed. I’d been starting to think of my relationship with Jon in these terms. In fact, I’d drawn up a list of Thing To Do When I’m Home for the holiday break. These are the items I’d placed on it, in their original order:

o Spend a day driving around and chatting with Missy.
o Go to a dive bar some night with Jon and split at least one pitcher between us.
o Have cigars with Mom and Dad.
o Sled with M, J, and Bailey (the current Golden Retriever).
o Cook dinner for the whole family.

****** Jon was an artful bitcher. Remind me to tell you his rendition of Dr. Death and the Boy Who Couldn’t Look Down on Patience Day, Patience Day being that day and night of pre-Navy Boot Camp training in which new recruits are screamed at, woken up, trotted about, and generally traumatized to the right gilt edge of the law, and then deposited back home. Jon’s retelling of his Patience Day was epic and hysterical simultaneously: standing around the kitchen island w/ Mom and Missy, I was reminded how deeply funny my brother could be. Like, w/ voices and imitations of the BWCLD's vocal quaver and Dr. Death's lumberjackish frustration with wussiness - all of it captured, I like to think, to Ts.

******* SPECIAL EXTRA LYRIC FROM IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA!!! From “King of Carrot Flowers” – “And Dad would dream of all the different ways to die / Each one a little more than he could dare to try.” Inferences and dark ironies are here yours to draw.